Tishrei: Kavanot for God’s Name
We derive the appellation for God’s Name, used in the Rosh Hashana Mussaf – Additional Prayer – from the combination of letters and vowels of the following verse: “When Pharaoh’s officials saw her, they praised her to Pharaoh.”
The context is: “There was a famine in the land, so Abram went down to Egypt to stay for a while because the famine was severe. As he approached Egypt, he said to his wife Sarai, “Look, I know that you are a beautiful woman. When the Egyptians see you they will say, ‘This is his wife.’ Then they will kill me but will keep you alive. So tell them you are my sister so that it may go well for me because of you and my life will be spared on account of you.” When Abram entered Egypt, the Egyptians saw that the woman was very beautiful. When Pharaoh’s officials saw her, they praised her to Pharaoh. So Abram’s wife was taken into the household of Pharaoh. (Genesis 12:10-15)
I. Aware of Our Beauty (Malchuyot 1st Day)
“They saw her”: and no others. They did not notice any of the other women traveling with Abraham. There was something special about Sarai that immediately caught the attention of Pharaoh’s officers. (Peirush HaTorah L’Ba’alei Tosafot)
Although we may not notice, we possess a special beauty on Rosh Hashana. The fact that we desire to stand in judgment before God, gives us a special shine that causes God to notice us. When we participate in the Divine Coronation we clothe ourselves in His light. Our prayers must come from a place where we appreciate the special beauty we possess on this day.
II. Individual Providence (Zichronot 1st Day)
“The officers of Pharaoh and they praised her” – Sarei Pharaoh, Vayihallilu Ota – the final letter of each word spells – Y H V H – The Divine Name. (Peirush HaTorah L’Baalei Tosafot)
God was intimately involved in all that was happening when Abraham went down to Egypt, even as Abraham made his own decisions. God responded to those choices and guided all that took place.
There is a special connection between God and Israel on Rosh Hashana, which is expressed in His direct involvement in our lives, as He guides us. We are not simply asking for a year of life: We ask God for another year of life in which He is directly involved with us every second of the year. God does not simply write down in a book of life that we have been granted another year of life. He makes a commitment to be involved with us every moment of that year.
We stand in judgment as God expresses His awareness and care for everything we do, say and think. He is more involved with us on Rosh Hashana than any other time. We use these intense moments of connection to pray that He remain as involved throughout the coming year.
III. Seeds of Greatness (Shofarot 1st Day)
I heard from my master, the Ba’al Shem Tov that if a person witnesses a sinful act he must consider that God is reminding him that the stain of such sin exists in him. (Toledot Yaakov Yosef)
I imagine that the same is true of good. When we witness something beautiful and good, it is an indication that the seed of such goodness exists in us.
This is what happened with Sarai in Egypt: Abraham only feared the Egyptians and therefore chose his strategy of claiming Sarai as his sister. It worked for the Egyptians, but it did not work for Pharaoh. (Alshich) Abraham did not realize that the beauty he acknowledged in his wife was an indication of his own beauty. He missed his lesson that only a king could witness and appreciate such magnificence. Abraham prepared for the Egyptians, but he did not prepare for his counterpart: Pharaoh.
The Shofar wakens us to take notice of the seeds of greatness and beauty in our souls, something we touch only on Rosh Hashana, and to realize that now is our opportunity to take notice and commit ourselves to nurture those seeds.
IV. Fit For A King (Malchuyot 2nd Day)
When the Egyptian authorities saw Sarai and began to discuss her beauty, they brought her to the king even before Pharaoh so ordered. (Derashot HaRa’anach) They realized that this woman was fit only for a king. They did not even consider taking her for themselves.
Our beauty on Rosh Hashana is such that whoever can see us as we are understands that we belong only to God. We must practice seeing the magnificent beauty in each other on Rosh Hashana, and to acknowledge that such beauty can only be possessed by the King.
V. Influential Beauty (Zichronot 2nd Day)
How did Sarai come to the attention of Pharaoh’s officers? Abraham attempted to hide Sarai in a box and offered to pay whatever tax would be imposed without opening the box. The regular tax officers understood that whatever was in the box must be priceless and they insisted on opening the box. Once the box was opened, Sarai’s light began to shine throughout Egypt. The existence of such beauty caught the attention of everyone in the city. The light spread throughout the land as people changed their perspective of life once they understood that such beauty was possible. It was the impact of Sarah’s beauty that Caught the attention of the highest royal officers. They noticed Sarai’s influence. (Rabbi Moshe Cordevero, Or Yakar on the Zohar)
Imagine a beauty so magnificent that it inspires people. The beauty changes the way people see the world. Such is the beauty of Israel before God on Rosh Hashana: It impacts all of creation and time.
Our beauty is not our own, but shared with all the ages: from the people who stood at Sinai and accepted the Covenant, all the way through history to us. We look back and see the beauty of a nation that has retained its beauty across all boundaries of time and space.
This is the beauty that God “sees” in us on Rosh Hashana, which creates the opportunity for us to see and appreciate the beauty we derive from our relationship with God.
VI. Beauty As Topic of Conversation (Shofarot 2nd Day)
When the royal officers began to praise Sarai’s beauty, they actually expanded Sarai’s influence in the world. There are steps we take to expand Holy Influences. We first take notice. We then discuss in order to understand. We can then access and use the Shefa – the Influence of Blessing. (Ari HaKodesh – Sefer Likkutim)